As part of Black History Month we want to celebrate the African-American self-taught inventor and period pioneer Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner (1912-2006, pictured above).
As you probably know by now, we have recently launched our reusable period pads and liners. Before that we invented the world’s first reusable tampon applicator. We won’t go into all that now, but a world first is something we share with Kenner, who at the age of 44, in the mid-1950s, invented the world’s first adjustable sanitary belt to keep sanitary pads in place.
Born into a family of inventors, and in spite of never receiving a college degree or professional training, Kenner was a prolific inventor of personal and practical household objects, from a loo roll holder to a wall-mounted back washer for the bath or shower. Over her lifetime Kenner filed five patents, which is more than any other African-American woman in history.
That same year she submitted a patent for her design, but as was the case for too many women of colour, racial discrimination blocked her path to success.
Zing Tsjeng, author of the brilliant Forgotten Women book series, wrote about Kenner in her book Forgotten Women: The Scientists, and in an article on Vice.com she quotes the inventor:
‘“One day I was contacted by a company that expressed an interest in marketing my idea. I was so jubilant,” she said. “I saw houses, cars, and everything about to come my way.” A company rep drove to Kenner’s house in Washington to meet with their prospective client. “Sorry to say, when they found out I was black, their interest dropped. The representative went back to New York and informed me the company was no longer interested.”’
It is a disgrace that Kenner never received any money or credit for her invention. Because her patent expired, the design entered the public domain where it could be - and was - manufactured freely.
To pay tribute to this inspiring female inventor, Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner, the period pioneer, DAME has made a donation to The Black Curriculum in her honour. Here's to all the future Mary Kenners, the future female scientists and the future period pioneers getting the credit and money they deserve.
*The Black Curriculum is a social enterprise that aims to deliver black British history all across the UK. It runs a variety of virtual and in-person programmes to schools, young people and corporations to promote the importance of black history.